The Great Canadian Language Barrier

I’m now over four months into my Vancouver adventure, and I can already say that there are some things I’ll never get used to. My unsuccessful interactions with the Canadian service industry is one of them. I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason I’m asked to repeat myself every time I order a coffee/coke/sandwich/other food and drink is because the person asking for my order is so distracted by the fact that I have an accent that they stop listening to what I’m saying. So they ask me to say it again. Every. Single. Time.

The situation got so hilariously ridiculous that three of my Canadian friends created some cue cards for me to flash instead of speaking my regular orders. We soon realised that the English-Canadian language barrier doesn’t stop at food and drink, and before I knew it I had a comprehensive set of 41 unique cue cards. Here are a few of my most used translations:

Bin = Garbage
Chips = Fries
Crisps = Chips
Lie in = Sleep in
Lemonade = Sprite
Wellies = Rain Boots
Line = Queue
Hockey = Ice Hockey
Toque = Beanie
Poutine= Chips, cheese and gravy
Loonie = 1 dollar coin
Toonie = 2 dollar coin
Hydro = Electricity
Pop = Fizzy drinks
Take off = Go away
Trunk = Boot
Hoser = Loser/Idiot
Concentrate = Squash
Cilantro – Corriander
Canuck = Canadian
Movie Theatre = Cinema
Apartment = Flat

In addition to the list above, there are a number of Canadian words and phrases that don’t have a literal translation. Top of the list has to be those three little words ‘I know, right?’, closely followed by the one little non-word ‘eh?’. Yes, Canadians really do say eh. A lot. For example:

Canadian A: Great game last night, eh?
Canadian B: I know, right?

Brit A: It was a great game last night, wasn’t it?
Brit B: Yes it was.

The use of ‘eh’ and ‘right?’ at the end of a sentence can just as easily be flipped round to mean exactly the same thing:

Canadian A: It’s cold today, right?
Canadian B: I know, eh?

Brit A: It’s cold today isn’t it?
Brit B: Yes it is.

Now I know what you’re thinking, you’re almost at the end of this blog post and I haven’t yet mentioned the ultimate Canadian stereotype: ‘a-boot’. Well it turns out Canadians don’t actually say ‘a-boot’. But they do say ‘a-boat’, which I find equally as funny and can’t understand why the rest of the world doesn’t just make fun of them for that instead. As much as my colleagues deny this, it’s still the only way I can tell the Canadian and American accents apart.

Just to clarify, I do write in jest and it’s these little Canadianisms that really make my day. Every time I hear ‘eh’, ‘right?’ or ‘a-boat’ I really do feel like I’m living in my very own movie, and they act as a regular reminder that I’m living the Canadian dream.  Just a slightly repetitive one.


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About MarmitetoMaple

I'm originally from the UK and have been working and living the dream in Vancouver, BC, since January 2011. I am a firm believer in travel, good cheese, volunteering and community engagement.

3 responses to “The Great Canadian Language Barrier”

  1. atomsofthought says :

    Thank you! This post made me laugh. How I love Canada! Sometimes I feel more welcome there than I do in my own country (the U.S.). I wonder if Americans are more likely to hear the Canadian accent (apart from those obvious sayings you mentioned) than English speakers from other countries. In some of the northern American states, like Minnesota and especially Wisconsin, you’ll hear traces of that same accent. I find it to be endearing 🙂

  2. Alice R says :

    Lizzie-lizzie, I know exactly what you mean!
    And while it does get exasperating to repeat that yes, I want a taco, (I mean seriously, taco is taco, what else could I be saying) or no, I don’t want potato chips, I want hot chips, CHIPS! Bollocks…I mean fries… I still get a fat grin on my face every time I walk into a store and the clerk goes “Omg I LOVE your accent!”

    It is kinda awesome. My friends here are used to my accent but its awesome to see how much newbies can understand.
    Although I got mobbed around Royal Wedding time because everyone wanted to know how I celebrated it. Saying that the most exciting part for me was when the horse escaped the parade and hoofed it through the crowd was met with disapproval.

    I still say boot, pavement, crisps (sometimes) and apparently the term ‘bin liner’ is funny because it’s ‘wrong, because it’s call a trash-bag”.

    There are only 2 people in this country that understand 90%+ of what I say: Nick, and the only yank I know that a. has seen Eddie Izzard live!! and b. understands the glory of Blackadder and Top Gear. Shocking.

    Hope you’re still having a blast lady!

  3. Heather says :

    Love it! Reminds me of all the differences between American and Aussie speak. Thankfully from my travels to London I knew enough British-isms to know some of the Aussie ones straight away.

    Never thought about “I know, right” being different as my sisters and I say it all the time. Glad you pointed that one out as being different 🙂

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